Addiction and the Body: What Happens and How to Recover

Addiction and the Body

Addiction and the Body: What Happens and How to Recover

It is essential to long-term recovery to understand the relationship between addiction and the body.  Proper nutrition is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle, and it’s also a critical part of a successful recovery program, used by professional rehab facilities that truly understand the importance of treating addiction as a whole — body, mind, and spirit. Too often, recovering addicts go through treatment without getting a full understanding of how addiction and the body are affected by their substance abuse, end up suffering a relapse, and land right back where they started.

We will discuss the different changes your body may have seen over the course of your past using habits, and how to help it heal now that you’re sober. Although it probably feels tempting to indulge a bit now that you’ve given up your drug of choice, the nutrient deficiencies often caused by addiction can contribute to a relapse. The healthiest, smartest choice you can make in your sobriety is to fully embrace a new path — including a more nutritious diet and regular exercise.

We’ll get you started here, whether you’ve been sober for a week, month, or even for years, and are looking to make healthy life changes. If you’re still looking to find a treatment center that can help you tackle these challenges as a part of your recovery, Behavioral Rehabilitation Services offers a healthful nutrition program as a supplement to the rehab’s traditional treatment plans, providing clients with an opportunity to learn the diet and lifestyle changes they can make to improve their health and well-being.

The Relationship Between Addiction and the Body

Decades of research has shown that substance abuse and addiction have an adverse impact on a person’s physical and mental health, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) reports that abusing drugs can actually alter gene expression and brain circuitry, which can, in turn, affect human behavior. “Once addiction develops, these brain changes interfere with an individual’s ability to make voluntary decisions, leading to compulsive drug craving, seeking and use,” says the NIH. In addition to causing significant behavioral changes, addiction can also have harmful effects on a person’s physical health, possibly increasing the risk of such medical conditions as stroke, cancer, cardiovascular disease, lung disease, hepatitis and HIV/AIDS. And while these effects typically occur when drugs are used at high doses or for an extended period of time, some may take place after just one use.

The effects of addiction and the body vary and ultimately depend on the drug. Depressants like marijuana, for example, can increase a user’s appetite and cause them to consume more calories than they need. This can be especially harmful if the food someone is eating is unhealthy and fattening. Prolonged marijuana use can leave a person overweight and nutrient-deficient.

Stimulants addiction and the body, on the other hand, may decrease a person’s appetite, leading to a lack of nutrients. The calories a regular stimulant user does consume are often sporadic, making even the healthy ones limited in their ability to provide benefits. Stimulants also tend to decrease sleep, and the combination of no rest and no nourishment can be incredibly taxing on your body.

Alcohol can have a somewhat complicated effect on your hunger and eating habits. For some people, it decreases overall appetite, and for others, it increases cravings for food that’s high in fat. In general, those who drink excessively tend to have trouble properly assessing their appetite and end up falling into unhealthy eating habits.

Whatever a person’s history with substances, a body that’s now entering addiction recovery is already going through a major, sudden change. Indeed, the act of getting sober is the healthy choice, but the detoxification process can be rough on the body. Withdrawal may bring painful, sometimes overwhelming symptoms. Even if you don’t display physical symptoms, your body is still adapting to its new routine — even regular meals and more consistent hydration is a change. It’s important to make the most of your recovery by implementing healthy, robust ingredients into every meal.


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Actively making healthier choices about what you eat can not only ease your body’s recovery physically, but it can even increase your happiness. Although a part of you may know that you’re making the healthy choice, choosing sobriety is an emotional decision. You must confront issues about what led to your substance abuse and answer personal questions about how you can get on the right track. It’s an important, worthwhile endeavor, but your body is going to need its strength. And any boost you can give yourself from within, even if it’s just feeling more physically satisfied at the end of the day, can go a long way into reasserting that you’re making the right decision.

Addiction and Malnutrition

For people who abuse drugs, the “compulsive drug craving, seeking and use” that goes along with addiction often means their own physical and mental health is neglected, as they spend the majority of their time and energy focused on obtaining and using the drugs that give them the high they are seeking. As a result, malnutrition is a serious concern for drug abusers, and poor nutritional health only compounds the adverse effects of addiction and the body, which can include issues like fatigue, low energy levels, organ damage, poor immune health, and muscle and bone pain.

Among abusers of opiate drugs, the most common health problems include diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting, which can cause nutritional deficits and a dangerous electrolyte imbalance, while alcohol abusers typically experience vitamin B deficiencies, possibly leading to anemia and neurological issues. People who abuse stimulant drugs, like cocaine, often experience reduced appetite and high energy levels, which can keep them from eating or sleeping for long periods of time. This can lead to dehydration and malnutrition, both of which can cause more serious health problems down the line.

Healing Your Body in Recovery

There are a few things to keep in mind about how to best care for your body now that you’re on the sober track. First, commit to regular meal times and stick to them. Carve the time out of your schedule along with your other priorities, and treat them as so. Frame it as something you’re looking forward to, especially if your appetite is still inconsistent. Focus on the positives: if you love having grapefruit for breakfast, maybe remembering how content you feel in the mornings can help you look forward to dinner.

Addiction can also cause a unique kind of false association that’s important to consider in recovery. It’s common for addicts to prioritize their drug of choice over a meal at the height of their use. By the time they find sobriety, they’ve forgotten what regular hunger feels like and now associate it with satisfying their addiction. It can make hunger pangs feel like intense cravings, which is riskier with time and could ultimately trigger a relapse. It’s crucial to make sure you eat balanced, consistent meals to help retrain your body what hunger really means and what actually satisfies it. That isn’t to say you’re at risk for relapse if you’re hungry, but only that when your body feels happy and satisfied, you’re less likely to focus on your addicted past.

When it comes to making your meals, be sure you’re getting plenty of lean proteins, healthy carbohydrates, and fiber. Your body might be struggling to tell you exactly what it needs, so have some granola in the morning even if you’re not particularly hungry. You’ll ultimately feel better, and if your appetite does come back, it will be in-check by lunchtime.

You should also get some exercise every day. It can be a 30-minute walk around the block or a mile run on the treadmill — whatever activity you enjoy and will look forward to each day. You might even consider getting involved in a local rec league or starting an evening game of pickup basketball after work.


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Give yourself a bedtime and make sure you’re getting adequate sleep. If you’re having trouble finding enough rest, consider trying meditation or breathing exercises. Remember, your body is going to take some time to adjust. The best thing you can do is to try to keep yourself as calm and relaxed as possible at bedtime, especially if you don’t fall asleep right away.

If you’re only just beginning your recovery journey and want your treatment to reinforce a healthier lifestyle, Behavioral Rehabilitation Services offers clients a comprehensive nutrition program that includes the following services to address addiction and the body:

  • Well-rounded physical fitness routines
  • A customized nutritional supplement regimen
  • Dietary planning with a private dietitian
  • Healthy meals made by a private chef
  • Optimized sleep and daytime scheduling

Contact an Experienced Addiction Specialist Today

Any addiction specialist with experience treating recovering addicts knows that addressing all aspects of a substance abuse disorder is the key to successful recovery. As such, Behavioral Rehabilitation Services offers clients a well-rounded nutrition program that emphasizes the importance of a healthy, balanced diet and teaches clients how to understand what their bodies are telling them when a craving strikes and encourages clients to establish a consistent mealtime and sleep schedule. Good nutrition is a critical component of any addiction recovery program, and the professional rehab counselors at BRS work closely with clients to develop a nutrition program that works for them to overcome the effects of addiction and the body.

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